The Cheeseman Christmas Eve 1971

by Donald Cheeseman

Our first long-leave from lecturing at the Copperbelt, University was almost over. It was the day before Christmas,

1971. We were hurriedly driving our Volkswagen, E411, Variant, station wagon north through South Africa as fast as we could, to be back the two thousand kilometres north to Luanshya, Zambia by New Years day.

We arrived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, (The old Rhodesia), on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. The stores were just closing down for the holidays. We managed to allow our four and five year old sons to visit the now near depleted toy department to ogle the meagre selection of toys not seen in Zambia. They understood we had no extra money or space for anything but very small toys in our tightly packed small home inside of the station wagon. However they were encouraged to pick out Christmas gifts for each member of the family. We left the town centre driving the fifteen or so kilometres back south to Matopos National Park.

We arrived in the park as the sun set. We quickly found suitable campsite beside a towering five metre high egg-shaped granite rock.

This was not an oddity, as the park was full of protruding rocks. We could see no sign of other campers. We four all gathered wood in the nearby bush for the night, being careful not to put our hands anywhere that a scorpion or small snake may be resting before it's nightly hunt.

The boys cleared a fire-place in the cream coloured coarse quartz sand at the base of our now claimed rock. They carefully levelled three larger dried logs that would feed the small Bantu type fire. The boys competently lit and tended the fire in a safe responsible manner, while a

proud dad watched discreetly while inflating, with lung power, the three air mattresses that made up our sleeping arrangements within the station wagon.

The night was calm and skies were clearer than glass. The air was perfumed by the flowering tree as the short rains were over. While squatting, the boys roasted lengths of bratwurst sausages on green sticks they had competitively fashioned, while Elsa rested our battered war-surplus mess tin of maize meal, nshima, (The African stiff cornmeal porridge), on the top of the three logs, while constantly stirring until it was cooked and thickened. (Maize meal was our staple travel food as it was light to carry and we had not seen potatoes in Zambia since we left Canada 18 months ago.) We ate and cleaned up in the early evening.

The stars appeared one by one seeming especially bright as the last vestiges of the day sank quickly from warm redden sky to utter blackness. Our rock backdrop, gently radiating the now-welcome heat of the day as well as firelight. We sang Christmas carols. Elsa and I took turns reading out-loud the Christmas story from the bible.

The boys were so excited they wanted to stay up to get their presents at midnight. We knowingly agreed to do so. We banked up the fire with more wood, and read until the boys, now in their pyjamas, curled up in front of the fire to drifted off to sleep. Elsa and I stretched out close together on the still-warm sand. On our backs, we marvelled at the beauty of the night. We held hands, both wonder-filled to be outside under the stars on this warm Christmas Eve. Struck dumb by

the magnitude of the milky way silently drifting in endless procession across our view we remained in worship-full silence.

After many minutes, a lion roared from a great distance away. A hyena answered. That earthly sound broke the spell.

We got up and quietly moved away from the firelight to kneel under the stars. We felt very near to God the Creator. We prayed for for the many peoples of Africa, our family and gave thanks for our many blessings.

It was now a few minutes before midnight. We returned to the campfire to add wood to the glowing embers. We looked down on the two sleeping boys. We were very moved by the peace of the

moment. We gently carried them to their narrow air mattresses across the pedals for Dale and the seats for Lorne.

We all slept with a great peace. We awoke late on Christmas morning. I got up first and cooked porridge and scrambled eggs over the res-erected fire that still had coals from the previous night. The boys were fully awake when we shared the small gifts we had bought each other. The emotion of the moment filled my eyes with tears as we wished each other, "Merry Christmas". We hugged and held hands as we all gave thanks for Jesus.

Christ was born!

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